BCS changes make for boring September


As far as my boss knows, I didn't fall asleep on the job Saturday.

But I would be surprised if the number of sofa snoozers around the country wasn't higher than normal for a weekend of college football. We were treated to just one game between ranked teams (Iowa and Michigan), and neither of those teams was in the top 15 of the polls. There wasn't even an upset, although USC and Boise State were each given a major scare.

All in all, it was an unexciting and uneventful weekend, which was reflected in the almost undetectable changes to the polls on Sunday. I think we can all be glad that the conference portion of the schedule is finally upon us. We need something to make this season interesting.

As much as I hate to say it, September may never be the same again. Not as long as there's an 11-game schedule with the current BCS format. It just doesn't encourage the type of non-conference games the fans want to see.

Remember all the great matchups we saw the previous two seasons? Miami took on both Florida and Tennessee ... there was USC vs. Auburn ... Penn State vs. Nebraska ... Oklahoma vs. Alabama ... Michigan vs. Oregon.

Well, it was fun while it lasted.

Most of those games were made possible by the NCAA allowing teams to play a 12-game regular-season schedule, because the calendar fell with an extra Saturday between Labor Day and the end of November. Given an extra date to work with, many major programs thought it would be fun to play a game of national interest. And we, the fans, appreciated it.

But now we're back to the traditional 11-game schedule until 2008, and unless proposed 12th game legislation passes, there won't be another 12-gamer after that until 2013. That requires budget-conscious athletic departments to be very stingy with their non-conference contracts.

Most major programs say they need a minimum of six home football games each year to fund the athletic department. Some schools insist they need seven. Since most teams have four home games and four road games mandated for conference play, that places a priority on scheduling non-conference opponents who are willing to come to your place without you returning the trip to theirs. That makes it difficult to negotiate a home-and-home series with another major program during an 11-game season.

This dynamic has been in effect in college football for a while now, but in the past few seasons, there was a dangling carrot that motivated some teams to give up a little guaranteed money for a chance at a much larger payday. That carrot was the BCS, specifically its formula for deciding which teams play for the national title and which teams are eligible for at-large berths to the major bowl games.

Until this season, a major part of that formula was schedule strength. By playing Ohio State rather than Ohio, or Texas instead of Texas-El Paso, a team could potentially improve its chances of getting into one of the big games -- maybe even the biggest game of all -- which would increase cash flow in many ways.

But schedule strength has now been made mostly irrelevant to marquee teams by offseason changes to the BCS formula. While computers still address strength of schedule in their formulas, it doesn't have a big enough impact to motivate teams to risk losing a game out of conference when they can pay a non-threatening team $300,000 to come into town and give them an easy victory in front of a sold-out stadium.

Add it all up, and we have some uninspiring Septembers to look forward to.

A permanent 12-game schedule seems like a logical solution to this problem, and from a financial standpoint, it is. But most coaches and educators are against it because of the additional demands it would place on the players. That, of course, is worth considering.

The option of restoring significance to schedule strength within the BCS formula is also not likely to happen, mainly because that element was almost solely responsible for keeping USC (ranked No. 1 in both polls) out of last season's BCS championship game. The BCS folks want to aviod another controversy like that, even if it means making the early part of the season less exciting.

The best solution, in my estimation, is to transform the Bowl Championship Series into an eight-team playoff. Five conference champions (sorry, we're not including the Big East) would get automatic berths, and three at-large spots would remain for everyone else. It would only encourage teams to challenge themselves out of conference. A big non-conference win would help a team's case for an at-large spot, but a non-conference loss wouldn't ruin the season. A team could still reach the playoff by winning its conference title, regardless of its non-conference record.

It makes sense to me, but since it involves "the 'P' word," you can be sure the people who make the decisions for the BCS don't want to hear it.

Mock BCS Standings

Not a lot of movement this week. The biggest change is Tennessee and Cal switching places, with Tennessee moving up to No. 7 (from No. 12) and Cal dropping to No. 12 (from No. 7).

Brad Edwards is a college football researcher at ESPN. His Road to the BCS appears weekly during the season.